Personal space is an interesting thing. This invisible zone that no one is allowed to enter except for a very brief greeting. The zone reserved for only the most intimate of our relationships. And the vast majority of people get this. Is it something hard wired in our brains? Or is it cultural?
I've come across arguments for both. In the Smart Guide to studying in the USA site they explain personal space as a cultural difference and advise new comers to avoid closing the gap when someone backs away from them or touching someone during a conversation.
I know for certain that this personal space is a much smaller area in Italy. Almost non-existent. It is standard practice to lean against the person in front of you while waiting in line. If you inch forward they just slide right up on you. Or they will be so close that you're certain they're trying to smell your neck or rob you.
And while you (ie, me) are freaking out, they think nothing of it. Not a synapse of alarm or seduction or malice fires in their brains. They're just standing in line.
But then I read a study published in Time that found that the personal definition of personal space was controlled by a portion of the brain called the amygdalae. The found that people with healthy amygdalae had a personal space of about 2 ft. while a woman who happened to have severe damage to this region of the brain was comfortable with half the distance.
Does that suggest that cultures with little or no sense of personal space lack developed amygdalae?
Maybe we could add it to their milk... like vitamin D. Sure would make buying tickets for the movie feel a lot less like going to a rave.
On the other hand, it might be nice to not be bothered by someone's arm around your shoulder, or being able to speak more discretely with the people around you. Huh... I wonder if this is why Americans are so loud.